What would you do if you found an
unusual-looking wallet, no identification inside, with $600
You could take an advertisement out in a paper and ask
inquirers to describe the wallet and the precise amount in
it to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's their
wallet, but this could prove more trouble than it's worth,
with a lot of opportunists coming forth with various guesses
just to see if they can lay claim to the cash.
Now let's say you're the one who
loses the wallet with $600 in it.
You're on a boat trip surveying some islands, and the
wallet accidentally gets tossed overboard.
Since you were only 50 meters from shore when it
happened, you consider there's a possibility you might
locate it. You
rent binoculars, snorkeling gear, even hire a boatman to
take you back out, all at a cost of $125.
After seven hours of searching, you think you've
found your lost wallet.
It's someone else's, with no identification, but with the
same amount of money within.
You shrug your shoulder, and think how much worse it
could've ended up.
You could've lost the full $600.
Now you've, in effect, got $475 of the money back.
A week later, an acquaintance of yours
sees the wallet and recognizes it as belonging to a cute
girl that he knows vaguely.
You explain to this acquaintance that you found this
wallet while looking for your own and spent $125 of your own
money in the search.
He assures you that he won't tell the girl he's
definitely found it until he confirms she'll pay the $125
A few days later he says she's okay with the $125 and
passes your details on to her.
She calls and explains that she doesn't really have a
lot of cash on her right now and can't pay you back the
she's not willing to pay any finder's expense at all.
She wants the wallet back with the full $600 and
expects you to take the $125 hit.
Under those conditions, would you give it back?
This is not a hypothetical story,
although the item lost was not a wallet with money in it,
but a $600 kiteboard.
I was kiteboarding on the beach not far from my house
here in Thailand.
As is my usual custom, I had the board attached to my
harness with a leash.
During a jump and a subsequent wipeout, the leash
water that day was very choppy and the waves extremely high,
and I failed to locate my board.
This took place near sunset.
Before the last traces of light disappeared from the
sky, I walked a kilometer and a half up and down the beach
hoping I might see my board being washed towards shore.
I offered a passing jet skier a reward if he should
happen to locate it.
The sun set without my board being found.
That night, I went home and typed up a
flier, in English and in Thai, describing my board,
including a picture I found on the internet, and offering an
unspecified reward for its return.
The next day, I caught a taxi 6 km downwind from
where I'd lost it and walked in the hot sun all the way back
to the beach area near where I'd lost it originally,
circulating the fliers along the way.
At 4 PM, I received a call from a Thai jet skier.
He said he'd found my board.
He lost no time in asking the critical question.
What was I going to offer him as a reward?
My board, purchased two years before brand
new, had cost me close to $600.
I felt a fair reward was 10% of that new purchase
price -- $60.
The jet skier didn't agree.
Though he had no use for the board personally, he
knew what it was worth and wanted twice that amount.
I didn't have to give the matter any thought.
If I didn't pay him the $125, I'd have to outlay
another $600 for another new board.
The snag is that when I went to meet him,
the board he brought wasn't mine.
It was the same brand and the same size, but one year
older and a different model.
The jet skier didn't care.
He still wanted $125 for it, and my math still hadn't
changed. If I
didn't buy this board, I'd be out the money for a new one.
So I bought it, and for the next couple of weeks,
took it out on the water a few times.
While it wasn't as good as the board I lost, it
I confided this story to very few people.
I felt I had very little to gain aggressively seeking
out the original owner.
The main kiteboarding school in my town has bred a
very negative attitude toward the jet skiers.
When a kiteboard is lost, it is a jet skier who's
going to find it.
Several years back, when the jet skiers showed up
with the lost boards, the kiteboarding school failed to pay
It eventually got to the stage where the school
branded the jet skiers as thieves, and this became a widely
accepted perception among all the kiteboarders who hung out
near that school.
The jet skiers now found no incentive to publicly
come forward with lost boards.
I had only received a call from a jet skier because
I'd made a private initiative to locate my board.
You might call the jet skiers greedy for
asking $125 for a board, but thieves they aren't.
A thief has to steal.
These kiteboards were lost, and in the case of mine
and the one I bought, there was no name or address
information written on them for any finder to contact the
rightful owner, not that they would anyway after being
branded thieves by the school and its supporters.
The jet skiers perform a useful service for the
kiteboarding community and should be rewarded.
It is my opinion that $125 is an excessive reward,
but what does my opinion matter?
We live in market economies where the prices of goods
and services depend upon supply and demand and whatever the
market will bear.
The fair reward is the price a kiteboard owner is
willing to pay to get a board back.
One of the people to whom I'd confided my
story, Jack, approached me a few weeks later and said he
thought he knew whom my board had once belonged to, a
"really cool" and "attractive" (his words) Japanese girl
from Nagasaki named Yumi who visited our local beach on
weekends from the big city.
I said I was happy to return the board to her
provided she reimbursed me the $125 I paid for it. I
emphasized this point several times with Jack.
"We already bombed Nagasaki once.
I don't want to get embroiled in another war with
Japan," I told him.
I was referring here to a negotiation war.
I was firm that there was no room for negotiation.
At first Jack told me Yumi didn't want the
board back. She
was going to buy a new one.
A week later, Jack called me again and said Yumi had
changed her mind.
Jack passed my details on to Yumi.
Yumi called a week later and tried to
bargain me down on the price, saying she couldn't afford the
knew this was a load of horse manure.
She had a decent job in Bangkok with Canon.
I felt insulted that she was expecting me to take a
loss on her board.
(Yumi later revised her story -- she didn't feel she
should pay the full $125 since I'd used the board for
Yumi put a retired English lady, Sarah, on the phone whom
I'd rented kiteboarding gear from two years earlier -- her
husband has a stack of older gear he's barely used.
Sarah told me to "step up and be a man" and return
the board to Yumi for no charge.
It was very easy for Sarah to be generous when it
wasn't her money on the table.
Sarah hadn't stepped up and allowed me to rent her gear
She tried to persuade me to go to the police to report the
jet skiers as thieves.
In her thesaurus, the Moron Edition, "lost" and
"stolen" are synonyms.
Not only did I not agree with incriminating the jet
skiers, I felt that I had everything to lose by showing up.
If I were at the police station and admitted to
having Yumi's board, the police as well as Yumi, Sarah, and
their fellow noble ilk could pressure me into giving back
the board on my dime.
I hung up on Sarah, never returned the board to Yumi,
and sold the board for even more money in Malaysia when I
went there on vacation the following week.
The board sold very quickly, so I'm certain the
price I was charging Yumi, the same price I paid the jet
skiers, was quite fair.
But any price was too high for Yumi.
Yumi never really had any intention of paying to get
her board back.
The incident left a very bitter taste in
When I contacted Jack by e-mail later to tell him Yumi's
reaction, his own reaction was "What the )$@*)( do I care?
It is a matter for you and Yumi to sort out."
There should've been nothing to sort out.
I had been crystal clear to him what my terms were
from the very beginning before opening up this can of worms:
if Yumi wouldn't pay me back the sum I paid the jet skier,
then Jack was not to pass my details on to Yumi.
And sorry, Yumi.
If it was a matter for the two of us to sort out, why
get the police, Sarah, and the kiteboarding school involved?
Totally ignored by
everyone was that if I hadn't done the hours of leg work,
found the board, and paid the jet skier, then Yumi would
never had a prayer of ever getting her board back.
Sarah took the view that I should've known better
than to buy a 'stolen' board off a jet skier in the first
place, but had I abided by those weirdly-defined ethics,
there would have been no board available to benefit anyone.
Yumi's board would have lain permanently in the back
of some jet skier's closet, just as every kiteboard lost in
the future will because too many people lack clarity on what
the right thing is.
If someone finds your wallet or kiteboard
or iPod, would you have to think twice about showing thanks?
For the system to work, people's attitude has to be
one of gratitude.
Where gratitude is not to be found, neither,
eventually, will generosity.
If people are to be
encouraged to do the right thing, then there must be
incentives for them to do it.
They should not be punished, humiliated, or
I do not seek sympathy for my actions.
At least my actions are consistent.
If Yumi had found my board, I would have happily
reimbursed her the $125 and bought her a drink or dinner to
show my gratitude.
I'd be focusing on the fact that she'd saved me $475.
Never would I have expected her to "step up" and give
me back the board at a financial loss to herself.
This is where the problem of the right thing lies:
other people's expectations of right and fair
changing with the direction of the winds.
For I am sure if Yumi had found my board, she would
not have parted with it for less money than she paid for it,
as I'm equally sure that if tight fisted Sarah had expended
cash for a bargain at a pawn shop, she would not "be a man"
and later return that item to its proper owner for free if
that item were found to be stolen.
She'd just offer to sell it back to him at a small
This is a lady whom I
negotiated a price on the beach for the rental of a large
learner's board who then raised the price by the time I
showed up in her condo to pick it up.
"I know what the kiteboarding schools charge to rent
one of these, and the first price we worked out is too
cheap," she told me.
Here's a more consistent deal:
do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
expect from others what they can expect from you.
If you expect to get something for free, then you, in
turn, should be giving it away for free.
If you demand others to "step up" and "be a man",
then before spouting generic rhetoric about what the right
thing is, step up and be a man first.
Doing the right thing means nothing if
you're doing it for the wrong person.